By Sara Schneider, Sunset wine editor
The wine for our ultra-local feast is pressed off and sitting there all murky and brooding in its glass carboys. We’ve topped each with a “ferm lock”—a cool rubber-and-glass stopper that allows bubbles out (the wine’s last gasps from fermentation) but no air in. All the books say to stand by.
The yeast might take a little while to eat up the last dregs of sugar, and the malolactic bacteria might take even longer—weeks? months?—to transform the harsh malic acids into creamy lactic ones. Until the bugs eat their fill, the wine might taste strangely sweet and sour (scary, considering our investment in the grapes).
And it does—the Syrah, at least. Team Wine’s most recent monitoring mission—i.e., barrel tasting (make that carboy tasting) produced a few worries. A squirt of wine from our turkey baster (which turns out to work even better than a wine thief for extracting samples from carboys) into everyone’s glass wipes out any concern about color. It’s a rich, dense, blue-ish red. The cold-soak we gave the must before we started the fermentation clearly did its job, extracting serious color and flavor from the skins and seeds.
But when we taste it en masse, nobody says a word. There’s big fruit flavor in there all right, but with a funky, tangy edge. Is that the aforementioned okay funk? Or has some of the alcohol turned into acetic acid that the books also say can happen if the wrong bacteria have gotten into your wine—on little fruit-fly legs, say?
The Chardonnay, on the other hand, tastes wonderful. The version we didn’t put any oak chips in is crisp and full of green apple and pear flavors—“Asian pear skins,” says food editor Margo True, and we know she means that in a good way; “a cross between a Mason Sauvignon Blanc and a Talley Chardonnay,” says food writer Amy Machnak, and there’s no possible negative read on that.
The “oaked” version is a little softer, a little rounder. And both are amazingly clear; the lees have settled to the bottom. Exciting stuff.
The surprise to us across the board is that every carboy tastes different. The same wine in separate vessels is living a different life.
Time to call in the expert: Thomas Fogarty winemaker Michael Martella, who sold us the grapes and juice in the first place. He’s agreed to come taste with us this week to trouble shoot. Can this wine be saved?!